Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Picture Book Basket on the Range

For the past few years, I've implemented what I call our Picture Book Basket. Each week, I load the basket with a handful of selected picture books. Each day, Second Daughter and Second Son (who are 7 and 5 this year), choose one book for me to read aloud to her or him. (Generally, other children crowd around as well.)

From the beginning, I was surprised at how books I expected to be immediate draws were left until the end of the week or not selected at all. I feel like I learn a bit more about the people Second Daughter and Second Son are by the books they choose, especially the ones they choose early in the week when there's a fresh batch of books.

A second advantage was a freedom to let picture books slide. In past years, I'd feel anxious about picture books I had scheduled that we did not have time to read together, but anxiety about reading picture books is not a productive homeschool anxiety, especially given the amount of other reading going on. With the Picture Book Basket, I'm able to read a picture book a day without worrying about reading every picture book.

I was also excited to have this method for ensuring the picture books I love on our shelves end up in front of my kids on occasion. Something about putting them in a smaller group facing outward just encourages more reading.

Finally, with three young readers in the house, I find myself reading fewer picture books. The kids read them independently, and even more often, the older ones read to the youngest. My picture book snuggle time is on a definite downward trajectory. The Picture Book Basket ensures I get a little time with each of the little ones every day. On the best days, he or she insists on sitting on my lap - it's the right of the one who chooses the book, of course.

Want a Picture Book Basket of your own? First, grab a sturdy box. I have an old one that's sturdy even if not the most aesthetically pleasing. (I tried to hide the worst of the peeling and discoloration in the photo.) Then, choose some picture books.

Picture Book Sources
  • The Classics - These are the quintessential picture books you might find on the kinds of lists that tout the 100 picture books every child should read like this one, or this one, or this one. I'm not specifically suggesting these three; they were the first that came up in a Google search. These kinds of lists are ubiquitous. If you glance through a few, you're bound to come up with thirty you love and want to share with your kids, so make a list and put one per week in the basket. My choices tend to end up on the blog as favorite picture books.
  • Library Finds - I'm constantly checking out new books at the library. When I find one I think the kids would like or that I'd like to share, it goes on this list. Because I'm a heavy-library-user, I ended up choosing two each week for this category. Sometimes we like them more after reading them and sometimes they never surface again. If you keep an eye on blogs like The Bleeding Pelican or Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, you'll have a steady stream of possibilities.
  • Liturgical Year Books - Resources like Catholic Mosaic and modern Catholic publishing houses provide many wonderful picture books. When a feast day or a saint's day happens during a week, I put my favorite books in the Picture Book Basket. I happen to know the third grader often reads these and then puts them back in the basket.
  • Reading Around the World in Picture Books - I've done this for years, selecting picture books set in a particular country or continent and reading them through the year. It's such a wonderful way to introduce children to other cultures and life all around the world. I often post our books on the blog and you can find them with the Reading Around the World tag.
  • Bird Picture Books - Second Daughter loves birds. (I feel like I say that over and over on the blog, but it's true.) This year we started a bird study that will continue next year as The Burgess Bird Book for Children is long enough for an extended study. When I find a bird-featured picture book, I add it to the list and put one each week or so in the Picture Book Basket. These tend to be creative and fun rather than informative. I wouldn't expect another family to include specifically bird books, but you could consider featuring an animal or topic that particularly fascinates your children.
  • History Picture Books - We use RC History's Connecting with History and there are often recommended picture books or ones I find at the library. If I find one that fits, I'll put it in the Picture Book Basket rather than scheduling a time to read it. American history in particular provides a plethora of choices.
  • Math Picture Books - Inspired by Let's Play Math, I started adding math picture books to the basket as I find ones I think the little ones will enjoy. Second Son (age 5) seems to be particularly drawn to these.
  • Science Picture Books - Over the years, I've found many picture books that align with the science my third and fourth grade students are studying. They're already in my lesson plans so I added them to the Picture Book Basket, too. 
  • Random Other Books - In third grade, for example, my kids do a Kansas study, so this year we added a handful of Kansas books to our Picture Book Basket as they seemed appropriate. The picture books are listed at the end of this post. Sometimes, if I know a field trip is coming up and request a slew of related library books, I'll choose a few to put in the basket over the course of a few weeks. Basically, this category means: "It's my basket and I'll put what I want in it."
In theory, we could have a lot of books in our book basket, but in practice we don't have books from each category every week. At most, we'd read ten books a week (two books each day, one for each child), but we rarely go five days in a row when we get through every single lesson without a crisis or an appointment or a beautiful day that demands the five year old be outside rather than "doing lessons." On average, I'd say we read 6-8 books a week from the Picture Book Basket. Sometimes that's all of them but most weeks there are one or two left in the basket at the end of the week. Those get shelved with the other library books until they're due, so sometimes the kids end up reading them anyway.

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